What is the English word to refer to someone who studied together with me at a graduate school or a Ph.D program?

I doubt a "classmate" is appropriate to a graduate school.

Maybe a "lab mate" ? But theoretical researchers don't use labs.


4 Answers 4


I'm not sure that "classmate" is inappropriate, but any of "fellow student" or "fellow grad student" or "fellow doctoral candidate" would certainly cover the case. Essentially, "fellow " covers most cases of someone who has the same position as me at the same time.


In American academia, the students enrolled in a curiculum together are a cohort— though note that this term is used in a variety of ways, and can also have specialized meanings in a particular institution. You could say your fellow student was also in your cohort or a member of your cohort or, less acceptably in my opinion, your cohorter.

The education glossary provided by the Great Schools Partnership (a US school reform think tank) defines cohort as

students who are educated at the same period of time—a grade level or class of students (for example, the graduating class of 2004) would be the most common example of a student cohort. Cohorts may also be divided into demographic or statistical categories, or subgroups, by age, race, gender, socioeconomic status, or English-language proficiency, among other categories. Educators often track academic data related to specific student groups, such as standardized-test scores or graduation rates, and the performance of these cohorts is often compared to other cohorts.

You can find multiple examples of it used to describe graduate students who commence their program together in Canadian and American media, for example

I came into the program as one in a cohort of ten first year graduate students.— Dana Campbell, "ABCs and PhDs: My Cohort," Inside Higher Ed, July 2, 2008

My own law school cohort gives some fabulous examples. Even just the relative handful of people I’ve kept in touch with or stumbled upon here or there, in person and online, are doing some interesting things. —Kim Nayyer, "Yes, You Can Do That with a Law Degree," Canadian Bar Association PracticeLink, January 1, 2015

I am coming into my graduate program with an extremely small cohort, and I am worried that I will not be able to make friends with such a small group to choose from. What do I do if I do not get along with my fellow cohorters? — Ask the Grad School Guru: Small Cohort, University of Washington Graduate School Blog, June 2015

This derives from the more general definition of cohort, which AHD for example defines as

1. a. A group or band of people. b. A companion or associate. c. A generational group as defined in demographics, statistics, or market research:

That said, cohort can also be used to refer to all students in the institution enrolled at a particular time, or to intentional communities of students organized by a department or school for collaborative or social purposes, and in other ways. Moreover, some would consider it educators' jargon. As such, I would take care to make clear what meaning you intend.

I wouldn't necessarily consider classmates to be inappropriate, depending on the program and institution; it would be far more common to refer to your fellow students at lower levels. The difference, I suppose, is that there can be considerably greater variation in the time it takes to complete a doctoral program, so the cohort you begin the program with are not necessarily the people you defend with or graduate with.


I don't think "classmate" is inappropriate. If I was looking for one word, "Bob was a _______ of mine at Podunk University", the first word that would come to mind is "classmate".

Probably the most common way to say this in American English is, "Bob and I went to school together". Or if you want to be more specific, "Bob and I went to college together" or "Bob and I went to grad school together" or "Bob and I went through the same PhD program".

"Fellow student" also works. "Bob was a fellow student at Podunk University."

  • In the UK we would assume that you were referring to your secondary school classmates if you refer to a school without a modifier like law school or med school. Many Brits would know from the context that you were referring to tertiary education but the same cannot be said of our American cousins in regard to their understanding of the UK's terminology for tertiary education, Oct 29, 2016 at 19:44
  • In the US, I think if you said "went to school together", that would be considered ambiguous whether you meant elementary, secondary, or college. If you wanted to be clear, you'd have to specify, "went to high school together", "went to college together", whatever. Also, don't Brits say "went to uni" when talking about grad school? (Americans do not refer to a university as "uni".)
    – Jay
    Oct 30, 2016 at 5:26

You could also say: "we are alums of the same school" (slang), "we are both alumni of the same school", or "we have the same alma mater".

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